Oshi no Ko episode 3

Rating: B+

Since episode 2 aired, news has broken that the first episode of Oshi no Ko was HIDIVE’s biggest debut ever, and also that opening theme “Idol” is topping multiple Japanese music charts. (It’s also currently the top-rated show for the Spring 2023 season on MAL, even over the new season of Demon Slayer.) That puts is on a hype track at least on par with a Spy x Family, which raises the very real concerns about whether or not the series can live up to the hype. Despite episode 3 being a less impactful episode than the previous two, it’s still does a solid job of carrying the weight of that hype.

Episode 3 picks up where episode 2 left off, carrying forward the reunion of Aqua with former child actor Kana Arima. Roles petering out for her as she got older (an all-too-common problem for real-life child actors) forced her to learn to hard lessons and revamp her thinking about acting if she wanted to resuscitate her career. Essentially, she had to learn the hard way what Aqua got taught at a young age: be more accommodating, make an effort to make connections, and play to what’s needed rather than always trying to be the best actor. That’s allowed her to resuscitate her career as an actor – specifically, in a live-action shojo manga adaptation – and she badly wants Aqua to join her by filling a recently-vacated villain role. Aqua’s not interested until he learns that the director is one of the people he’s seeking out as a possible candidate for being his and Ruby’s father, and he cannot pass up this chance to get a DNA sample.

While the plot keeps the story moving here, the details and characterizations are the much more interesting parts. Kana seemed almost like a joke character in her initial appearance, but the portrayal here is far more nuanced than expected. While her understanding of the business is not yet perfect (as Aqua discovers from overhearing the director talk about her), she has learned and grown as a person, to the point that she can offer some interesting insight about these kind of live-action productions. Specifically, the point here isn’t to make something that’s good, but rather to make something which showcases a lot of hot boys, and acting skills be damned. Her laments about having to act down to the level of her cast mates so the differences in skill aren’t too blatant is the most cynical take possible on Aqua’s “doing what’s needed, rather than what’s the best” lesson and raises the interesting question on how often something like this actually happens. (Fortunately, anime production largely dodge this in Japanese casting, though it isn’t unheard-of for idols to have roles in anime series as a gimmick.) Sadly, the way the original creator seemed disappointed with this subpar rendition of her work is probably a more common occurrence, one that has been alluded to in other anime (such as A Sister is All You Need), but all of this makes it perfectly plain why Kana is so keen on Aqua filling the vacated role: she at least knows that he’ll be competent, and she’s desperate to work with someone who is.

The big irony here is that Aqua winds up playing a hooded stalker, a character uncomfortably similar to the one who killed him in his previous life and Ai in this one. That irony is, of course, not lost on him, and so with his main task accomplished, the expectation that he is going to add some special flair to his performance makes for a nice episode-ending cliffhanger. You can tell that something special is coming up because this is one of the three times this episode that the star in his right eye goes black, and its always happens when his darkest ambitions come up; the other times were when he, a few years earlier, finally figured out the password to Ai’s old phone and gets a look at her contact list, on which he’s basing his hunt for his biological father, and later when he’s thinking about how he doesn’t have any ambitions beyond revenge.

There are other neat details to watch for here, too. I quite liked how Aqua and Ruby are shown in one scene wearing shirts emblazoned with “TWINS” in English, and the way Ai kept her life carefully segmented through the use of multiple phones was also a neat bit of posthumous character development; she may have been less flighty than she looked and acted. The details about how the shoot is normally handled on a TV show are also convincing. And will we now have a debate on whether password 45510 has some special significance? (It is the number shown in the opener, after all.)

If there’s a negative in the handling of this episode, it’s that it offers no opportunity for Ruby’s viewpoint, but since the content is more about what Aqua is doing, she will presumably get her turn. For now, the series is humming along quite nicely.

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